The Cast of My Machu Picchu Adventure
I've had this blog for almost two years now and while I love writing and sharing my stories, I'm really bad about blogging regularly. It's definitely not because I have a lack of things to say---if you know me IRL, you know that's not the case, at all. I just found out it's NaBloPoMo -- National Blog Posting Month, and I'm taking the 30 day, 30 blog post challenge. I'm going to be "grounded" for the month and it seems like the perfect opportunity to turn blogging into a habit for me. And I just officially registered with them, so here goes nothing! What that means for you:
- You'll be hearing from me more often. (Think once a day instead of once a month. Consider yourself warned.)
- You'll (hopefully) finally hear about the stories and events that you've seen a sneak peek of but want to hear more about.
- Your comments will be even more valuable to me as they'll help me realize if I'm a) how good/bad of a writer I actually am b) on the verge of being sent to your spam folder c) if I need to spice up my life d) am alone in the way that I interpret or experience things
Without further ado, here I go on my blogging challenge. Wish me luck!
"Do you guys still love me?", I asked as I fell asleep in my tent.
"We'll tell you in three days", came the muffled response from my friend a few tents over.
As expected. After all, I was the one who had planted and watered the bat shit crazy idea to visit Machu Picchu in Peru via the Inca Trail to the group.
Let me rewind. I first heard about Machu Picchu 5 years ago (I know, I live under a rock at times) and after seeing photos, I thought it was a pretty place to visit, by train. Then, over time, I saw more and more of my friends doing the Inca Trail Trek to this Wonder of the World and the wheels started turning. It also helps that I've changed a bit in the past few years and instead of fearing and loathing outdoor activities, I actually endure, and dare I say enjoy?, them. Somehow doing the idea of the Inca Trail stuck. When my friend, Urvi, and her husband (and now good friend of mine), Beau, came to visit Portland last year with their friend, Tejal, I proposed the idea and planted the initial seed. Earlier this year, especially after my friend Ashley's passing, I watered said seed. Before I knew it, a group of 8 had committed to the idea and in June we booked our October adventure. At first, Beau said he'd take the train and meet us there. I was insistent on doing the trail, even if I did it solo, and fortunately for me, Beau's wife, Urvi, and Tejal's wife, Manisha, were on the same page as me. From there we also influence Manisha's sister, Nina, and her husband, Jayesh, as well as Tejal's business partner's wife, Bina, who was my roommate throughout the trip.
How do you summarize an epic adventure that pushes you beyond your physical and mental limits, brings 15 strangers together and breeds the start of lifelong friendships and leaves you aching for more? Well, you can't--but I'll try.
Let me introduce first introduce you to our cast:
From left to right:
Sejal - That's me! I'm a Canadian gal live in Portland, Oregon, love traveling and trying new things but would rather sleep on a bed or in a hotel than camp. Somehow, I was the initiator of this crazy adventure. I like to think of myself as the one who'd stick her foot in her mouth more often then not, the anchor (as I was always in the back) and somehow I became the group's speaker, especially when it came to speaking in Spanish?!
Urvi - (married to Beau) Urvi and I both grew up in Toronto and have been family friends for our entire lives. Yes, we've been friends for 27 years--isn't that crazy?! Our parents are good friends and we have fond memories of playing Lite Brite at her house, Octopus in her basement and making fun of her sister and her obsession with Dylan from 90210. She'll always greet you with a smile, if she can help you with something, it's already done, and she is always in a good mood--which is perfect for her job as a preschool teacher. She is one of the most genuine and caring people I know. Growing up, we'd see each other pretty regularly as our families would get together for dinner and what not, but as we got older we relied on the internet to keep in touch.
Jayesh - (married to Nina.) The cool, calm, collected one. While the rest of us were posting in our Facebook group about what the pack and anxiety about the trail, Jayesh's response to us is a perfect summary of who he is, "Y'all worry too much." Jayesh would be the voice of reason amongst a chorus of panicked opinions, he was the one who would stray towards the back of the pack (on purpose) so that he could make sure everyone else was doing alright, and man oh man does Jayesh know how to evaluate a bar. I'm definitely more of a cocktail gal but Jayesh had me enjoying Pisco, neat, by the end of the trip. He also asked me to vet future bat shit crazy ideas through him first.
Bina - (Tejal's business partner's wife and Nina and Manisha's cousin.) My roomie for the trip! Have you ever had a roommate who endured the cold because she didn't want to turn the light on to disturb you? That's Bina for you. We first started chatting over email weeks before the trip and I knew we'd get along based on our chatty emails. Bina's husband would never go on a trip like this which was even more reason for Bina to join us on this adventure. Except, she just thought it would be walking. She didn't fully know about the ups and downs of the trail, the camping or the bathrooms that awaited us on the trek--but she pulled through. Scratch that, she didn't just pull through, she dominated. Even with a backpack as big as she is, Bina was always the first in our group of 8 who would reach the checkpoints, the first to wake up in the morning and want to get the day started, and honestly, the first to volunteer to do anything--this woman does not sit still! She's a bundle full of energy, incredibly thoughtful and caring and quite frankly an all around badass. (Did I mention that she'd be waiting at the summit points for me, cheering me on as I made the final stretch? Yeah. Best roomie ever.)
Tejal - (Married to Manisha. Friends with Beau and Urvi, I met him in Portland last year.) Tejal met Beau and Urvi years ago as him and Beau are both in the hospitality industry and had run into each other at events. Tejal and Beau both had a conference in Portland which is when I met Tejal. I knew that him and I would be friends after he introduced me to the best pizza I've ever tasted, in MY city nonetheless! (I'm still mad at him for not warning me to not wear jeans. Jeans only stretch so much before they keep you from that extra slice!) Tejal is truly the mastermind behind our trip. After the idea was planted and we had figured out dates that would work, he took care of all of the booking, the planning, the coordinating--everything! So much so that I'm actually fearing planning my next vacation since Tejal spoiled us with this trip. All of the hotels we stayed at, restaurants we ate at, activities that we participated in were amazing! Not to mention, Tejal taught us how to use our poles correctly and would coach us along the trek--keeping us motivated and moving along, until he stopped to take some awesome photos.
Nina - (Married to Jayesh, sisters with Manisha, cousins with Bina.) Our unofficial tour guide! Before I arrived in Peru, Nina was the only one who spoke Spanish which earned her the title of being the local guide. She had done her research before the trip as she always had something to point out or share about Peruvian culture or history. As the mother of three darling boys, Nina was used to a go-go-go-go lifestyle and kept us on the move too! After spending 30 seconds with Manisha and Nina, you could sense the familial ties and personality traits the two shared as they always kept the conversation lively with their animated stories (complete with impersonations) and their desire to soak up as much of the local culture as possible.
Beau - (aka Bhargav. married to Urvi.) Though we've literally hung out only a handful of times, including their wedding if that counts, Beau and I have become pretty good friends. (I probably talk to him more than I talk to Urvi, partially because we're both on our computers at work while Urvi is running after her kids.) He's my go to techy, a self-proclaimed divo and a fellow foodie. While he loves his gadgets and gizmos, this dude is a loyal and trustworthy friend who will go out of his way to help you however he can. He's a wealth of knowledge when it comes to anything he's remotely interested in (he's the guy who does tons and tons of research before any purchase) and while he prefers the finer things in life, relationships, memories and experiences top his list of favorite things. Hiking up Dead Woman's Pass? Probably not.
Manisha - (Married to Tejal, sisters with Nina, cousins with Bina.) Talk about energy and excitement in a 5 ft package and you've got Manisha! Manisha and I first chatted over email a few weeks before the trip and immediately I could sense her warm and friendly personality. During the trip, Manisha was always one of the first people who'd want to go explore and check out the local scene. This woman does not stand still! Over meals and through the trek, she was a source of stories and humor, much like Nina, so it may run in the family?
That's the headcount for the group that I planned the trip with, the group that spent time in Urubamba after the trek and group that had an incredible meal in LimaPeru as a way to celebrate our accomplishment. On the trek, we were dubbed the "Non Normals" because of our food restrictions ranging from vegetarians to gluten-free to everything but eggplant to vegetarian but eats red meat. But this is only half of the group that made up our trek.
Meet the Brits, or as we like to call them, the SuperHumans (they earned that nickname because they'd always reach the meeting point well before the estimate our guide would put out for us.)
From left to right:
Kathi - isn't complete without a sparkle in her eye and a smile on her face--and she's quite the entertainer too, in German, might I add! New attorneys Kathi, Helly and Genevieve have been traveling for a few months before they start work full time in January. (Rosie just arrived to join them--she's also an attorney.) Kathi's travels keep going as she went to Brazil with the girls after Peru and will continue on with her adventures, to our jealousy, for months to come! After Brazil with the girls and Patagonia with her family in December, she's headed to South Africa for a few months as well!
Gina - Birthday girl numbero uno! Gina celebrated her birthday the day before we went on the trek--talk about kicking off a new year with a bang! She was a wealth of information over dinners as we discussed the differences between the UK and North America. Maybe it's a family thing, but she'd always be smiling too! (Seriously, when I think of Gina I see her darling face just smiling and nodding along enthusiastically to whatever conversation was taking place.) I'll also associate Gina with Milo seeing as the first time I had Milo because I'm fairly certain I was sitting with her trying to make sense of this brown chocolate powder that was put in front of me. The brother-sister (Gina and Tom) duo referred to themselves as "the bridge" during our trek as evidenced in our first group photo.
Rosie - The birthday gal...and the sacrifice. As the youngest on the trek, we'd kid that we'd have to sacrifice her, at which point she'd conveniently be nowhere to be found... Rosie is a doll, literally and she looks like one too! With an easy going smile, a heart of gold and an ease where you feel like you've known her for ages, Rosie connected the dots for her group of 5. Her and Tom have been dating since uni and she's been schoolmates with the other four girls (all attorneys) at different points. We celebrated Rosie's birthday (the youngest of the bunch) on our last evening together in Urubamba--it was a great way to celebrate our adventure!
Genevieve - is the Aussie-Brit who quite frankly was the entertainer of the trip. From her stories to her mannerisms to her one liners to her quirks, Genevieve took everything in stride and made us all laugh along the way. Between the two of us, we spilled food and water on us several times, we made inappropriate comments (mostly me) and were the unofficial entertainment. Small world connection: our high schools are sister schools! Thanks for getting back on FB just for me! Heart heart <3
Helly - Helly's inquisitive nature, can-do attitude and calm demeanor made her an absolute joy on the trek. She was always curious and asking questions about ourselves and listened so intently that hours could go by before you realized that you've been talking the whole time (ok, I'm being dramatic a little, but really! She's such a good listener!) while she still absorbed your every story. But don't let that fool you--this girl can sing, though I'm still waiting for my serenade! Small world connection: a partner at the law firm Helly is going to work knew Jayesh when he was 5!
Tom (Thomas) - The only two Brit guys on the trip, they're both named Tom, they're both ridiculously kind and they're both easy on the eyes, talk about making it easy for the rest of us! This Tom is most likely to come back to the Inca Trail and join the Red Army as a porter because he's seriously a super human. While I would gasp and take breaks and trudge up the uphills, Tom would run. RUN! We seriously wondered if Tom was on steroids--he's not, he's just an athlete. Not just any athlete, but rather he plays cricket for Essex. (That's the equivalent of having an NFL player on the trek with us!) But you'd never know it (minus his athletic ability) when on the trek with him. This guy is humble, inquisitive and all around awesome. And I'm pretty sure him and Beau have a bromance going on. Good thing Urvi and Rosie are each other's condors.
Tom - Last but not least, the eldest of the Superhumans (yet younger than the youngest in our "Non-Normals" group), I don't think I ever saw Tom without a smile on his face. He was always just so...pleasant. Seriously. When you think of your stereotypical ideal Brit, you probably think of someone well-mannered, polite, really nice and with a killer accent. Add in a tall, lean, athletic physique (you know how most guys need to get suits tailored, they fit Tom to a T, off the rack) and you have Tom!
While those were the trekkies, the trip wouldn't have been possible without our guides and the amazing Red Army! We had two great guides and a whole crew to make sure we had an incredible experience! The trekking company we went with, Llamapath, came highly recommended from several friends who had used them at different points.
Porters - aka the Red Army! The porters ranged from 21 - 62 years old and came from all over Peru. SIXTY TWO! They'd each be carrying bags that weighed at least 25kg full of our tents, our duffle bags, our food, etc. These guys are FIT! They'd leave campsites after us, would pass us on the trek, and would get to our lunch site and have lunch waiting for us when we arrived. They'd also applaud for you as you got to site and have warm water for you to wash up with. Did I mention they woke you up with room service (tea to your tent) every morning? It's been tough getting used to life after that kind of treatment!
Chefs - While the chefs would also carry gear on the trail, they had the added responsibility of preparing our meals as well. Planning meals when you're camping is tough enough, planning meals when you're camping and have 8 people who have eating restrictions---well, we'll just say that we didn't make things easy, but they delivered! They'd even have little mini gluten free desserts for me when they baked a cake for the group. (Yes, baked a cake, in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, amazing!) And meals were DELICIOUS! I'm talking four courses every single meal with no repeats. With all of the energy that we burned up during the day, you'd think we'd eat everything in sight, right? The chefs made sure there was always more than enough for us to get our fill!
Roger - was our lead guide. He'd the one who give us briefings at the end of the day, he'd stop and give us history lessons as we approached ruins and he lead the way! He was full of stories, laughs and sarcasm--so you can bet we all got along pretty well! From his "bueeeeno" comments to his daily mantra, "Take your time but hurry up!", a good guide is critical to your experience as they are your eyes and ears. A guide needs to motivate you, teach you, keep you safe and overall make sure that you have a good experience (to the best of their abilities), and I'd confidently say that Roger did that. (And he had us laughing along the way!) Small world connection: Urvi and I have two friends who recommended Llamapath to us, Roger was their guide!
Rony - was the second guide, but really, he was more like my personal guide. Rony would typically be at the end of the pack to make sure that no one was left behind, so for much of the trail, it was just him and I together or a few of us, always including me, who'd be bringing up the rear. Rony has been doing the Inca Trail for 10 years. He started as a chef on the trek and is now working towards being a guide. Some of my favorite memories on the trek are of me and Rony hiking to the campsite, talking in Spanish. (Yes, he'd put up with my broken Spanish and helped me improve!)
There you have it, these are the people who made this trip one that we'll remember for a lifetime. There are so many stories and jokes and memories from the trip that I'll hold dear...until they fade...but I'll never forget how well this group got along, the friendships that we created and the experience that we walked away with. While the trail was incredible and Machu Picchu was memorable, it's truly the relationships that we created that are of the most value. We started this trip as individuals and we ended it as a team.
In case you were wondering, they said they still loved me after the trip ;-)
More to come on specific tips and insights after having gone on the trek that will hopefully help you plan your own trip to Peru!